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The Primal Roots of American Philosophy

Pragmatism, Phenomenology, and Native American Thought

Bruce Wilshire

Publication Year: 2000

Continuing his quest to bring American philosophy back to its roots, Bruce Wilshire connects the work of such thinkers as Thoreau, Emerson, Dewey, and James with Native American beliefs and practices. His search is not for exact parallels, but rather for fundamental affinities between the equally "organismic" thought systems of indigenous peoples and classic American philosophers. Wilshire gives particular emphasis to the affinities between Black Elk’s view of the hoop of the world and Emerson’s notion of horizon, and also between a shaman’s healing practices and James’s ideas of pure experience, willingness to believe, and a pluralistic universe. As these connections come into focus, the book shows how European phenomenology was inspired and influenced by the classic American philosophers, whose own work reveals the inspiration and influence of indigenous thought. Wilshire’s book also reveals how artificial are the walls that separate the sciences and the humanities in academia, and that separate Continental from Anglo-American thought within the single discipline of philosophy.

Published by: Penn State University Press

Series: American and European Philosophy

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. vii

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Foreword: The Return of the Native in American Philosophy

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pp. ix-xi

For a very long time American philosophers have found themselves in a situation of extreme futility. Wanting to be independent thinkers—wanting to articulate an authentically American philosophy—they have all too often fallen into epigonic roles and mimetic...

Part One: Reclaiming Sources and Possibilities

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pp. 1-87

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1. Looking Forward to the First Day

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pp. 3-14

Europeans crossing the Atlantic in the sixteenth century could smell the New World before they could see it: vegetation’s freshness wafted far across the waters. The “classic” American thinkers—Thoreau, Emerson, Peirce, William James, Royce, Dewey—could still smell it, in a real sense...

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2. Black Elk, Thoreau, Emerson, and Their Aura

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pp. 15-32

I realize the position I take up in this book is radical. It goes against entrenched invidious distinctions—that set Europe and progress over the indigenous and the primal, for a prime example. In the usual way of presenting pragmatic thought, its emphasis on possibility and futurity...

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3. William James, Black Elk, and the Healing Act

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pp. 33-44

These are tumultuous times for the institution of medicine. Natural sciences make spectacular strides that impact our deepest conceptions of self, body, health—discoveries in genetics and in the neurotransmitters of the brain, to take two examples. At the same time...

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4. James: “Wild Beasts of the Philosophic Desert”

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pp. 45-65

Between the burgeoning of Emerson’s writings in the 1830s to the 1850s and William James’s in the period 1890–1910, there stands a world-historical divide: Darwin’s and Wallace’s theories of evolution and the evidence for them. Nature comes to be conceptualized...

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5. James on Truth: The Preeminence of Body and World

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pp. 67-87

James on truth may seem to be a worn-out topic. At least the epistemological aspect of James’s thought has been thoroughly covered, has it not? Don’t we know that James committed the howling error of confusing truth and confirmation of...

Part Two: Further Reclamations

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pp. 89-160

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6. John Dewey: Philosopher and Poet of Nature

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pp. 91-120

Following Charles Darwin, and his own instincts and perceptions, John Dewey believes that experience can have integrity because it is integral with Nature. Yes, for better or worse, experience stretches beyond what Nature could provide without us, but its integrity requires...

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7. Body-Mind and Subconsciousness: Dewey and Tragedy

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pp. 121-135

It is not easy to think of John Dewey as a tragic figure. There are too many photos of his kind grandfatherly face, of his dandling schoolchildren on his knee, or of his meeting notables. He achieved influence fairly early, and ultimately fame comparable...

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8. Passion for Meaning: William Ernest Hocking’s Religious-Philosophical Views

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pp. 137-152

William Ernest Hocking is a major thinker unjustly forgotten. The reasons for this neglect are several, and throw light on our current situation: His addresses and publications, spanning the first years of this century to the 1960s, are of great subtlety, complexity...

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9. Henry Bugbee: The Inward Morning

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pp. 153-160

Of all the ringing, luminous, consummatory expressions Henry Bugbee delivers in The Inward Morning, the above is the one I have settled on for epigraph. It summons each of us to discover what is most fulfilling—to discover what would explain each...

Part Three: Taking Stock

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10. Ways of Knowing

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pp. 163-174

To think of knowledge today is to think mainly of scientific knowledge, and of this as distinctly Western or European science. Many centuries ago, the Chinese made important scientific discoveries: chemical, to produce gunpowder; astronomical...

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11. Pragmatism, Neopragmatism, and Phenomenology: The Richard Rorty Phenomenon

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pp. 175-190

Traditionally, the chief function of every civilization has been to orient its members in the world. Time-proven ways of getting about and surviving are imparted ritualistically, ways of avoiding confusion, damage, disaster, ways perchance of flourishing...

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12. William James’s Prophetic Grasp of the Failures of Academic Professionalism

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pp. 191-206

Nearly a hundred years ago, William James was ahead of most of us. In “The Ph.D. Octopus” (1903), he foresaw the existential crisis into which the professionalization of disciplines and the segmentation and bureaucratization of the university were...

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13. Charles Peirce on the Pre-Rational Ground of Reason

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pp. 207-218

Probably many have noticed what may appear to be a contradiction in Charles Peirce’s early “Some Consequences of Four Incapacities.” The heading for the fourth incapacity reads: “We have no conception of the absolutely incognizable.” Yet just a few pages...

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14. Shamanism, Love, Regeneration

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pp. 219-236

In delighted regard Blake opens to the bird, flows with it, is buoyed by it. He opens ecstatically to its world of delight. Ecstasy withers if Blake regards the classic five senses—his sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell—as merely inner sensations stimulated by five...


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pp. 237-241

E-ISBN-13: 9780271052700
Print-ISBN-13: 9780271020266

Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 2000

Series Title: American and European Philosophy
Devoted to the contemporary development of American and European philosophy in the pragmatic and Continental traditions, American and European Philosophy gives expression to uniquely American thought that deepens and advances these traditions and that arises from their mutual encounters. The series will focus on new interpretations of philosophers and philosophical movements within these traditions, original contributions to European or American thought, and issues that arise through the mutual influence of American and European philosophers.